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United Nations Development Programme

Human Development Theory has roots in ancient philosophy and early economic theory. Aristotle noted that “Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful for something else”, and Adam Smith and Karl Marx were concerned with human capabilities. The theory grew in importance in the 1980s with the work of Amartya Sen and his Human Capabilities perspective, which played a role in his receiving the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics. Notable early economists active who formulated the modern concept of human development theory were Mahbub ul HaqÜner Kirdar, and Amartya Sen. The Human Development Index developed for the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) stems from this early research.[8] In 2000, Sen and Sudhir Anand published a notable development of the theory to address issues in sustainability.[9][10]

Martha Nussbaum‘s publications in the late 1990s and 2000s pushed theorists to pay more attention to the human in the theory, and particularly to human emotion.[11] A separate approach stems in part from needs theories of psychology which in part started with Abraham Maslow (1968). Representative of these are the Human-Scale Development approach developed by Manfred Max-Neef in the mid-to-late 1980s which addresses human needs and satisfiers which are more or less static across time and context.[12]

Anthropologists and sociologists have also challenged perspectives on Human Development Theory that stem from neoclassical economics. Examples of scholars include, Diane Elson, Raymond Apthorpe, Irene van Staveren, and Ananta Giri. Elson (1997) proposes that human development should move towards a more diverse approach to individual incentives. This will involve a shift from seeing people as agents in control of their choices selecting from a set of possibilities utilizing human capital as one of many assets. Instead, theorists should see people as having more mutable choices influenced by social structures and changeable capacities and using a humanistic approach to theory including factors relating to an individual’s culture, age, gender, and family roles. These extensions express a dynamic approach to the theory, a dynamism that has been advocated by Ul Haq and Sen, in spite of the implicit criticism of those two figures.[